Why Chef Lisa Nakamura Loves White Truffle Oil

How truffle oil, the luxe kitchen staple of the '90s, never went away for chef Lisa Nakamura
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At a fraction of the cost of fresh, foraged truffles (which can run up to hundreds of dollars per ounce), white truffle oil quickly became the wonder ingredient of the ’90s. Chefs drizzled it over hamburgers and into sauces, and tossed it with popcorn for an affordable cheat to gourmet snacking.

Chef Lisa Nakamura of Gnocchi Bar on Capitol Hill (1542 12th Ave.; 206.328.4285) never let go, and still considers white truffle oil one of her shining pantry staples. The first time she tasted the infused oil, made from imported fungi that grow underground, she was working the line in chef Thomas Keller’s kitchen in Napa. Nakamura remembers thinking, “‘Oh my god, this is incredible!’ I’d never had anything like that in my entire life.”

White truffle oil feels sophisticated and elegant to Nakamura, when used sparingly. Add a few drops to butter or cheese and it makes a mundane item extraordinary. “It’s hard to find just one ingredient that does that,” she says. It pairs well with all fat-based recipes—a drop in a vinaigrette enriches a simple green salad. Adding some of the oil to eggs heightens their appeal.

Nakamura’s tried-and-true dish is a simple gnocchi in a cream sauce with crisped bacon and white truffle oil; her staff at Gnocchi Bar can’t get enough of it. Just a few drops, she says, “is beautiful on its own. It’s a timeless classic to me.”

A bottle of white truffle oil.

Why You Should Try It: 
“Because it makes food taste awesome,” says Nakamura. An occasional condiment, white truffle oil ups the flavor of many savory dishes and can be subtle or heavy, depending on personal preference. 

Why You Should Try It: “Because it makes food taste awesome,” says Nakamura. An occasional condiment, white truffle oil ups the flavor of many savory dishes and can be subtle or heavy, depending on personal preference.

How to Use It:  Sparingly. One or two drops in a recipe is plenty for subtle flavor. Nakamura recommends using the oil in salads; she first tasted white truffle oil in a salad of roasted beets and frisée. White truffle oil can also be added to doughs, upping their savory qualities. “Add a few shakes to puff pastry and make Parmesan cheese straws.” A natural pairing with eggs, white truffle oil can be used in creamy scrambled eggs or omelets. “Cream of mushroom soup is the perfect vehicle for it and it carries that fungus flavor forward,” she says.  (Photo at right: White Truffle Oil) 

Where to Find It: Pike Place Market. La Buona Tavola Truffle Café carries several brands ($10.95–$59.95; 1524 Pike Place; 206.292.5555) and offers informative service and tastings. DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine (1435 First Ave.; 206.622.0141) also carries the oil. For an expensive DIY project, cover freshly shaved white truffles with a small amount of canola oil and let them infuse the oil for one month before using.

Picture of Chef Lisa Nakamura

Chef Lisa Nakamura

RECIPE: POTATO GNOCCHI WITH TRUFFLE CREAM

Serves 2

1 bag frozen Gnocchi Bar gnocchi (available at all PCC stores and at Gnocchi Bar restaurant)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon cold water

½ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon white truffle oil

Chopped herbs, such as tarragon and chives, for garnish

» In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, melt the butter. When the butter has melted, add the frozen gnocchi (do not thaw first). Shake pan to brown the gnocchi evenly. Turn off heat.

» Add the water. Add the cream and mustard. Turn heat back on and cook for about five minutes, until the cream has reduced enough to coat the gnocchi evenly. Make sure the gnocchi are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

» Place in serving bowl. Drizzle with truffle oil. Top with cheese and herbs. Serve immediately and reach taste bud heaven.